Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The challenges of Ontario highway driving

Having just completed a couple of road-trips in Ontario, in addition to my usual ferrying of my daughter back and forth to university, I feel like I need to vent a bit about some of the challenges and frustrations of highway driving in Ontario.
Driving anywhere has its challenges, but what particularly bugs me here in Ontario is:
  • Left (and centre) lane hogs - most slow drivers (except, to be fair, trucks) tend to gravitate to the centre lane, partly, I think, because they're the same drivers who don't like to keep changing lanes to accommodate traffic joining at intersections (either they are not confident about changing lanes, or are just plain lazy). Some take this a step further and tootle along in the fast lane, apparently completely oblivious of traffic accumulating behind them.
  • In practice, this causes people to have to overtake on the right as well as the left, which is a whole other problem. This is a practice that seems to be accepted here, unlike in Europe where passing on the inside is strongly frowned upon. Certainly, it is potentially more dangerous, and makes driving more stressful, but, well, if that is the local custom, then so be it, I guess.
  • What I am less willing to accept is the habit of weaving in and out of traffic, to the left and to the right, in order to get ahead, and thereby save five seconds on an hour's journey. Now, my assumption is that most of the people that do this are 22 and male, with more testosterone than brains, and their interest is not so much in saving those five seconds, but in experiencing the adrenaline rush and watching the outraged expressions on the faces of old codgers like me. Either way, it needs to stop, and the police force should reassign some of the officers tasked with radar-gun cash-grabs in the city to blitzing this kind of much more dangerous behaviour on the highways. Here endeth today's lesson...
  • It is probably those same testosterone-fuelled twenty-somethings, plus a good number of overpaid, middle-aged, male line managers and sales execs in expensive Lexuses, BMWs and Camaros, that are mainly responsible for tailgating, driving scant metres behind the car in front and trying to intimidate them into moving over (see left lane hogs above). However annoying the left lane hogs are, this is dangerous, annoying and inexcusable, and needs to stop.
  • Which brings me to a really big and fundamental point. The majority of Canadians, in my opinion, drive way too close to the car in front, necessitating constant micro-braking, which has a cumulative domino effect on all the traffic behind, resulting in slow-downs, back-ups and greater potential for fender-benders. This isn't just the curmudgeon and party-pooper in me speaking: I was weaned on European driving, where the traffic goes siginificantly faster than here, but people typically a much leave greater braking distances, and traffic is less stop-go as a result.
  • I hesitate to impugn truck drivers - most of them are pretty responsible drivers, and I would not want their job for the world - but one thing bears mentioning. I know it can often take one truck a long time to pass another, and I know that they have to try and keep up momentum wherever possible, but several times recently I and everyone else have had to wait while a truck starts to overtake another and just doesn't succeed (either it loses momentum on a hill, or overestimates its own power compared to the other). So, several minutes into the manoeuvre, it gives up and pulls over, allowing the frustrated built-up traffic behind to continue. Or maybe it eventually succeeds, after several minutes of traffic disruption, only to be re-overtaken by the very same truck, and whole disruptive dance starts over again. Surely, it can make little or no difference to a truck's ETA whether it arrives just in front of, or just behind, another truck, and a lot of angst and frustration could be avoided for everyone else if it were to just tuck in behind and slipstream a truck going a similar speed. Or maybe it's just that the drivers are just bored out of their skulls and need something (anything) to think about for a while.
  • It would be remiss of me not to mention a common practice that probably leads to more road rage than any other: cars joining the highway at an intersection, or approaching a lane that is soon to discontinue (due to temporary construction work, for example, or a permanent lane reduction), who make no attempt to join the main traffic flow, but blithely continue along a clearly-terminating lane, until (surprise!) there is no room left and they just force their way into the line of traffic, causing everyone else behind them to brake suddenly. It is usually the same Lexus, BMW and Camaro drivers that are to blame here, and the same me-first inconsiderateness and sense of entitlement.
  • A recent intensification and worsening of this issue - I don't remember this being a thing here until just the last few years - is the tendency for drivers in a traffic queue to pull out to the right, into a joining lane which they know will end in 200 metres, or sometimes even onto the hard shoulder, in order to get ahead 10 or 15 car lengths, followed by the same forcing-in and associated braking chain. This used to be a common problem when we lived in Venezuela (a country and culture where common courtesy and a sense of social responsibility were all but completely absent), and I do sometimes find myself wondering whether the Ontarian perpetrators are not actually recent immigrants not yet fully versed in the polite Canadian way of doing things. Or it could just be indicative of a total breakdown in polite society and civilized mores. I don't know which would be a worse, a more depressing, conclusion.
Now, I'm not a perfect driver. I may be a little too aggressive, a little too "European", for some people's tastes (my daughter's, for example), and maybe I go a little too fast. But I don't think I am guilty of any of the above sins, and I am sure that the majority of the courteous drivers here are, like me, driving along with a constant simmering resentfulness and low-level anger that could easily be dissipated by a little thoughtfulness on the part of the average 22-year old male and the average middle-aged male driver of a Lexus, BMW or Camaro.

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